Dr. Vandana Gopikumar (with her friend and partner Vaishnavi Jayakumar) founded The Banyan in 1993, and The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM) in 2007.
The Banyan’s goals include enabling access to mental health and social care for the most vulnerable through its critical time interventions across two psychiatric hospitals for homeless and poor persons, particularly women in distress, rehabilitative, employment and after care services, three inclusive living options for persons with long term needs, and outpatient clinical and social care services across 13 access points in 4 districts of Tamil Nadu. Embedded in a philosophy of promoting equity and social justice within the mental health landscape, it has serviced close to 10,000 persons living in low socio-economic contexts through its clinics and outreach and has provided in patient care to over 2000 persons.
The Banyan and BALM study trends and patterns around structural barriers, discrimination, well-being, social mobility and capabilities across these diverse settings, and use research, advocacy and education as tools to influence policy and social change. Vandana herself was a member of the first Mental Health Policy Group constituted by the Government of India in 2012. Vandana now mentors a second line that leads both The Banyan and BALM, and operates on the board level across both organisations, mostly offering strategic direction and clinical inputs. Currently, she is engaged in developing and scaling up a few critical innovations including. The Home Again Approach & that explores community living arrangements for persons with moderate – severe disability.
Originally initiated in Chennai and Kanchipuram districts, this approach is now being replicated in Trichy district in TN, Calicut and Mallapuram districts in Kerala, Boko and Guwahati districts in Assam and is likely to expand to Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rwanda in East Africa in 2017-18.